Friday, December 24, 2010

Why do Americans claim to be more religious than they are?

Two in five Americans say they regularly attend religious services. Upward of 90 percent of all Americans believe in God, pollsters report, and more than 70 percent have absolutely no doubt that God exists. The patron saint of Christmas, Americans insist, is the emaciated hero on the Cross, not the obese fellow in the overstuffed costume.

There is only one conclusion to draw from these numbers: Americans are significantly more religious than the citizens of other industrialized nations.

Except they are not.

Beyond the polls, social scientists have conducted more rigorous analyses of religious behavior. Rather than ask people how often they attend church, the better studies measure what people actually do. The results are surprising. Americans are hardly more religious than people living in other industrialized countries. Yet they consistently—and more or less uniquely—want others to believe they are more religious than they really are.

Religion in America seems tied up with questions of identity in ways that are not the case in other industrialized countries. When you ask Americans about their religious beliefs, it's like asking them whether they are good people, or asking whether they are patriots. They'll say yes, even if they cheated on their taxes, bilked Medicare for unnecessary services, and evaded the draft. Asking people how often they attend church elicits answers about their identity—who people think they are or feel they ought to be, rather than what they actually believe and do.

The better studies ascertain whether people attend church, not what they feel in their hearts. It's possible that many Americans are deeply religious but don't attend church (even as they claim they do). But if the data raise serious questions about self-reported church attendance, they ought to raise red flags about all aspects of self-reported religiosity. Besides, self-reported church attendance has been held up as proof that America has somehow resisted the secularizing trends that have swept other industrialized nations. What if those numbers are spectacularly wrong?

To the data: There was an obvious clue (in hindsight) that the survey numbers were hugely inflated. Even as pundits theorized about why Americans were so much more religious than Europeans, quiet voices on the ground asked how, if so many Americans were attending services, the pews of so many churches could be deserted.

"If Americans are going to church at the rate they report, the churches would be full on Sunday mornings and denominations would be growing," wrote C. Kirk Hadaway, now director of research at the Episcopal Church. (Hadaway's research has included evangelical congregations, which reported sharp growth in recent decades.)

Hadaway and his colleagues compared actual attendance counts with church members' reports about their attendance in 18 Catholic dioceses across the country and Protestants in a rural Ohio county.* They found that actual "church attendance rates for Protestants and Catholics are approximately one half" of what people reported.

A few years later, another study estimated how often Americans attended church by asking them to minutely document how they spent their time on Sundays. Without revealing that they were interested in religious practices, researchers Stanley Presser and Linda Stinson asked questions along these lines: "I would like to ask you about the things you did yesterday from midnight Saturday to midnight last night. Let's start with midnight Saturday. What were you doing? What time did you finish? Where were you? What did you do next?"

This neutral interviewing method produced far fewer professions of church attendance. Compared to the "time-use" technique, Presser and Stinson found that nearly 50 percent more people claimed they attended services when asked the type of question that pollsters ask: "Did you attend religious services in the last week?"

In a more recent study, Hadaway estimated that if the number of Americans who told Gallup pollsters that they attended church in the last week were accurate, about 118 million Americans would be at houses of worship each week. By calculating the number of congregations (including non-Christian congregations) and their average attendance, Hadaway estimated that in reality about 21 percent of Americans attended religious services weekly—exactly half the number who told pollsters they did.

Finally, in a brand new paper, Philip Brenner at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research compared self-reported attendance at religious services with "time-use" interviews in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Norway, Finland, Slovenia, Italy, Spain, Austria, Ireland, and Great Britain. Brenner looked at nearly 500 studies over four decades, involving nearly a million respondents.

Brenner found that the United States and Canada were outliers—not in religious attendance, but in overreporting religious attendance. Americans attended services about as often as Italians and Slovenians and slightly more than Brits and Germans. The significant difference between the two North American countries and other industrialized nations was the enormous gap between poll responses and time-use studies in those two countries.

Why do Americans and Canadians feel the need to overreport their religious attendance? You could say that religiosity for Americans is tied to their identity in a way that it is not for the Germans, the French, and the British. But that only restates the mystery. Why is religiosity tied to American identity?

Historians will point to the European roots of North American colonization. Many European settlers came to the New World in search of religious freedom, presumably because they cared more intensely about religion than did the brethren they left behind.

Perhaps. That answer feels unsatisfactory. I don't think religious intensity necessarily explains how religiosity becomes part of one's identity. Canada and the United States are quite different today in terms of their religious intensity and the importance they attach to the role of religion in public life, yet citizens in both countries greatly exaggerate their church attendance.

Whatever the reason for the disparity, here's the bottom line: For many Americans, church attendance is a central part of their lives. For others, it's a waste of time. If you're in either of these groups, more power to you. But in the spirit of Christmas and the truthteller whose message we celebrate, surely believers and atheists can agree on what to tell folks who talk Jesus but walk Santa: Enough with the two-faced posturing.

The Christian War On Christmas?

It may seem like Christmas has always been celebrated in the United States, but that's not the case. In fact, the joyous religious holiday was actually banned in America for several decades – by Christians themselves.

The original war on Christmas was waged during the sixteenth and seventeenth century by Puritans, or Protestant Christians who believed that people needed strict rules to be religious and that any kind of merrymaking was sinful.

"Shocking as it sounds, followers of Jesus Christ in both America and England helped pass laws making it illegal to observe Christmas, believing it was an insult to God to honor a day associated with ancient paganism," according to "Shocked by the Bible" (Thomas Nelson Inc, 2008). "Most Americans today are unaware that Christmas was banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681."

All Christmas activities, including dancing, seasonal plays, games, singing carols, cheerful celebration – and especially drinking – were banned by the Puritan-dominated Parliament of England in 1644, with the Puritans of New England following suit. Christmas was outlawed in Boston, and the Plymouth colony made celebrating Christmas a criminal offense, according to "Once Upon a Gospel" (Twenty-Third Publications, 2008).

Christmas trees and decorations were considered to be unholy pagan rituals, and the Puritans also banned traditional Christmas foods such as mince pies and pudding. Puritan laws required that stores and businesses remain open all day on Christmas, and town criers walked through the streets on Christmas Eve calling out "No Christmas, no Christmas!"

In England, the ban on the holiday was lifted in 1660, when Charles II took over the throne. However, the Puritan presence remained in New England and Christmas did not become a legal holiday there until 1856. Even then, some schools continued to hold classes on December 25 until 1870.

Although the change was gradual, people began to once again embrace the holiday until Christmas as we know it today – complete with mistletoe, eggnog and candy canes – was celebrated throughout the American colonies.

France builds warships for Russia

Top officials in Moscow have accepted a French offer to help supply the Russian navy with two new amphibious assault warships, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said Friday.

The offer came from a consortium led by two French manufacturers -- DCNS and STX -- working in conjunction with Russian shipyards.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Air Bear (the good kind)

From a friend on the politics board:

He's had the stuffing knocked out of him a few times, but Lt. Col. Chester E. Bear still managed to parachute behind enemy lines during the Korean War and also serve in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. At one point, Chester even visited the South Pole.

That's a pretty illiustrious military career, especially for a teddy bear.

View more photos.

Chester's story began in 1950 when 3-year-old Katy Toole gave him to her Air Force father to take on a humanitarian mission. "I had to fly an iron lung to a little girl and Katy said, 'Give the little girl my teddy bear.' After the girl got better she sent Chester back," retired Lt. Larry Toole said.

The 89-year-old Toole flew B24 bombers in WWII and served in the Air Force Reserves after the war. "One day Katy was playing on the lawn with her teddy bear and a neighbor who was also in the reserves said, 'We need a mascot like that.' He was just kidding," Toole said. "But Katy overheard and said, 'Why don't you make my teddy bear the mascot?' "

Seemed like a great idea at the time, and Chester was promptly enlisted and outfitted. "The officers' wives sewed his tiny uniforms," Toole said.

In 1952, when Toole was called up to serve in Korea, Chester went to war, too. "We had four squadrons, and we passed him around from squadron to squadron," Toole said.

Along the way, Chester even learned how to parachute. "He had a 20-foot-long red ribbon for identification," Toole said. "We threw
him out the rear of the airplane with other jump troops. When they threw him out, he had a cable that automatically opened his chute."

Chester's reputation grew far and wide. "Once in Korea when he jumped, the infantry got him and they wouldn't give him back," Tolle said. Chester was declared missing in action for about three weeks before he was returned.

Chester is named for Maj. Gen. Chester E. McCarty, who is the former commander of the 10th Air Force. "Maj. Gen. McCarty was our commanding officer," Toole said, "and he took the bear with him to many bases. He took a liking to him and babied him. Chester was Air Force property."

With all that traveling about and jumping out of airplanes, Chester got a bit beaten up. "He's been restuffed five or six times," Toole said. One time he was "treated" for a torn ear, but accounts of the time say he did not report to sick bay.

Fast-forward to 1966: Katy had just graduated from Los Gatos High School and was living in Monte Sereno when she went to Portland and was reunited with Chester during a week of festivities hosted by the 313th Troop Carrier Squadron. By then, Chester had so many medals it was hard to keep track of them all. In addition to the standard dog tags that are still around his neck, Chester has earned his pilot's bars and a purple heart with cluster. "He's got medals we don't even know about," Toole said. "He's got medals from Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm."

When Chester returned from the Persian Gulf, he was retired from active duty. "They had him in a glass case on display in Portland," Toole said, "and then he went into storage."

Eventually, Chester was returned to Toole, who lives with his son and daughter-in-law in Campbell. Chester's "mother," Katy, now lives in San Jose and visits her father and bear regularly.

And so it is this Veterans Day that the words of 5-year-old Katy ring as true now as they did in a long ago newspaper interview she gave. "I'm awfully proud of Chester, but in a way I'm a little sorry I let him go to war," Katy said in 1953. "You see, he used to be my playmate, but now he's more like a boyfriend."

Photo caption: L: Katy Toole plays with her teddy bear, which she gave to the Air Force in 1950 for a mascot. (Family photo) R: Veteran Larry Toole shows off Lt. Col. Chester E. Bear. (George Sakkestad/Los Gatos Weekly Times)

Monday, December 20, 2010

About Damn Time

BRUSSELS — The European air safety agency says it will unveil on Monday a new proposal to combat pilot fatigue, known as the "silent killer" of civil aviation.

The new rules, which come into effect in 2012, will limit flight hours for air crews and standardize the current hodgepodge of national regulations across the continent.

The proposal would bar airlines from scheduling pilots to be on duty — both waiting to fly or in the cockpit flying — longer than 14 hours in a day. Nighttime work hours would be reduced to 12.

The European pilots association said that the agency buckled under pressure from the airlines. The association said in a statement the proposal ignores independent research into fatigue affecting aircrew, which recommends a maximum of 12 hours on duty during daytime and 10 hours at night.

Ouf Friends, The Pakistani ISI,8599,2037875,00.html?hpt=T2

In trying to figure out what's happening in Pakistan these days let's not fool ourselves. The ISI is not a rogue agency that does exactly what it wants. It falls squarely under Pakistan's military. The commander and chief controls the budget as well as personnel appointments. At any time, he can remove the ISI's director. And since Pakistan's military is the ultimate executive authority in the country, it would be safe to conclude Pakistan itself permitted the suit against the CIA.

Conceding that I've climbed out on a long speculative limb — but who doesn't when it comes to Pakistan? — we should be wondering just how much purchase we've lost in Pakistan. They want our money, but not our drones. They don't want the United States to fall into the arms of India, but they also do not intend to kowtow to us. They want to be a part of any settlement in Afghanistan, but they won't or can't bring the Taliban under control. But now, with leading elements of the country possibly going after the CIA, whether it's by leaking a name or by fighting it in the courts, we should start wondering whether Pakistan is done with the bargaining on the war on terror.

Read more:,8599,2037875,00.html#ixzz18fEEf2zp

Thursday, December 16, 2010

High School Never Ends

They say you never escape high school. And for better or worse, science is lending some credibility to that old saw. Thanks to sophisticated imaging technology and a raft of longitudinal studies, we’re learning that the teen years are a period of crucial brain development subject to a host of environmental and genetic factors. This emerging research sheds light not only on why teenagers act they way they do, but how the experiences of adolescence—from rejection to binge drinking—can affect who we become as adults, how we handle stress, and the way we bond with others.

One of the most important discoveries in this area of study, says Dr. Frances Jensen, a neuroscientist at Harvard, is that our brains are not finished maturing by adolescence, as was previously thought. Adolescent brains “are only about 80 percent of the way to maturity,” she said at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in November. It takes until the mid-20s, and possibly later, for a brain to become fully developed.

An excess of gray matter (the stuff that does the processing) at the beginning of adolescence makes us particularly brilliant at learning—the reason we’re so good at picking up new languages starting in early childhood—but also particularly sensitive to the influences of our environment, both emotional and physical. Our brains’ processing centers haven’t been fully linked yet, particularly the parts responsible for helping to check our impulses and considering the long-term repercussions of our actions. “It’s like a brain that’s all revved up not knowing where it needs to go,” says Jensen.

It’s partially because of this developmental timeline that a teen can be so quick to conjure a stinging remark, or a biting insult, and so uninhibited in firing it off at the nearest unfortunate target—a former friend, perhaps, or a bewildered parent. The impulse to hurl an insult is there, just as it may be for an adult in a stressful situation, but the brain regions that an adult might rely on to stop himself from saying something cruel just haven’t caught up.

Or consider risky sexual behavior. Recent studies suggest that the teen brain is particularly sensitive to activities—like sex—that trigger a response in the neurotransmitter dopamine, the same chemical often associated with both addiction and healthier behaviors having to do with motivation and reward. The brains of a teen couple upstairs at a party, maybe a bit drunk, are firing like crazy in anticipation of sex; unfortunately, they’re lacking full development of the brain regions that in an adult would interject with this urgent message: don’t forget to use a condom.

In a paper published last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Dr. Jay Giedd, a scientist at the Child Psychiatry Branch of the National Institutes of Mental Health, wrote that, according to brain scans conducted over several years, gray-matter volume peaks around or just before the beginning of puberty, and then continuously declines. In contrast, white matter (the stuff that helps connect areas of the brain) increases right up to, and beyond, the end of puberty.

These adolescent brain developments don’t happen to all parts of the brain at the same time. “The order in which this maturation of connection goes, is from the back of the brain to the front of the brain,” says Jensen.

And one of the last parts to mature is the frontal lobe, a large area responsible for modulating reward, planning, impulsiveness, attention, acceptable social behavior, and other roles that are known as executive functions.

It’s thanks in part to the frontal lobe that we are able to schedule our time with any sort of efficiency, plan in advance to arrange for a designated driver on a night out (or stop drinking before one is over the legal limit), and restrain ourselves from getting into fights any time we get involved in an argument. Unfortunately, it’s just these sorts of behaviors that teenage brains are not fully endowed to deal with—and the consequences are potentially fatal when it comes to high-risk behavior like drinking and driving.

This blast of teen-brain change is compounded by profound social and psychological shifts. Of particular importance is that adolescence is the time when we develop stronger social connections with our peers, and more independence from our parents.

“Before the transition to adolescence, kids’ interactions with one another, and the kinds of friendships that they have, are substantially different,” explains Dr. Mitch Prinstein, professor and director of clinical psychology, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “After adolescence they can really confide in friends, they turn to them as first sources of social support. Kids tell us all the time they are more likely to tell their friends about things going on in their lives, and stressors, than any adult.”

This cuts both ways. Healthy relationships have a positive effect on how an adolescent navigates through a tumultuous period of life. But at the same time, this reliance on friends makes young people susceptible to the influence of peer pressure, even when it is indirect.

“The most potent predictors of why adolescents engage in all kinds of health-risk behaviors—substance use, sexual behavior, even recently, self-cutting—is very much related to how much they perceive that their close friends are doing the same thing, or someone that they consider very cool and popular is doing the same thing,” says Prinstein.

And, the latest research shows that some of these risky behaviors may have surprising lifelong consequences. Toni Pak, assistant professor in the department of cell and molecular physiology, Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University, Chicago, recently demonstrated that rats exposed to binge drinking as adolescents developed some troubling issues as adults. When given alcohol, the former teen binge-drinking rats had abnormally high levels of the stress hormone cortisol; and when given repeated doses of alcohol, their brains failed to desensitize to the stress-hormone response as quickly as those of normal rats. When the rats’ brains were analyzed postmortem, Pak found that the former adolescent drinkers had profound changes in the genetic expression of the system that regulates stress-hormone release. “That is the same type of profile that we see in adult patients who have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder” and other mood disorders, says Pak. “They are not able to get used to stressors and they have very exaggerated responses to mild stress.”

Meanwhile, a Harvard study found that kids who smoked pot before age 16 had more lifelong cognitive problems than those who started smoking after 16. The tests were done on subjects with an average age of 22, and those who smoked pot earlier had problems remembering details, making decisions, and responding quickly when directions changed.

Other research supports the hypothesis that these kinds of prolonged impacts of environmental exposure—not just to alcohol, but to other types of factors, like bullying or abuse—can persist through adulthood, and possibly be passed down to future generations. Just last year, a study of the brains of suicide victims who had been abused as children showed abnormalities in the genetic expression of the same general stress-regulation system, called the HPA axis, that Pak studied in rats.

Another study found that peer rejection and public speaking create a greater chemical stress response in adolescents compared with children. The authors of the paper on this study noted that an increased stress response might be a biological strategy that allows adolescents to adapt to their environments, but that in high-risk individuals this upward shift in stress response “may tip the balance toward stress-response dysregulation associated with depression and other psychopathology.” As Kevin Beaver, a Florida State University researcher who studies adolescence and crime, says, “Stress can pull the trigger on the genetic gun.”

The good news is that most of us make it out of adolescence just fine. And while a better understanding of the teenage brain may bring into focus dangers we hadn’t known existed, it may also allow us to identify who is at risk.

For instance, Prinstein says that the social and psychological dynamics that make adolescents susceptible to acting on the real or perceived pressure of their peers can also be a system for resisting those same pressures. Sometimes it is the adolescents who have been picked on, but have found compatriots, whose anticonformist attitude protects against both the harassment by, and the social pressure from, higher-status peers. And surprisingly, sometimes the teens most at risk are in the middle and upper range of social status, but not quite at the top.

Beaver, who studies the link between biology and environment and how it affects who becomes a violent offender, says that most adolescents are “dabbling with delinquency,” and within a certain boundary, that’s not only normal (as long as it doesn’t go too far), it may be beneficial.

As long as the teenage inclination to dabbling in delinquency is moderate, the vast majority of people, well over 90 percent, says Beaver, grow out of serious delinquent behavior as they become young adults. Right at about the age when the latest findings in neuroscience and advanced imaging tell us our brains are finally matured.

“I wish I had known that when I was an adolescent,” says Beaver. “I’d have told my parents.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What the Internet Knows About You

Imagine that a company could use the Web to rate your health, your employability—even your dating appeal. Welcome to the credit score of the future.

Imagine you’re an employer, looking to hire me for a job. You subscribe to a Web site that gives you background information, and this is what you find. Jessica Rose Bennett, 29, spends 30 hours a week on social-networking sites—while at work. She is an excessive drinker, a drug user, and sexually promiscuous. She swears a lot, and spends way beyond her means shopping online. Her writing ability? Superior. Cost to hire? Cheap.

In reality, only part of this is true: yes, I like a good bourbon. But drugs? That comes from my reporting projects—and one in particular that took me to a pot farm in California. The promiscuity? My boyfriend of five years (that’s him above) would beg to differ on that, but I did once write a story about polyamory. I do spend hours on social-networking sites, but it’s part of my job. And I’m not nearly as cheap to hire as the Web would have you believe. (Take note, future employers!)

The irony, of course, is that if this were a real job search, none of this would matter—I’d have already lost the job. But this is the kind of information surmisable to anybody with a Web connection and a bit of background data, who wants to take the time to compile it all. For this particular experiment, we asked ReputationDefender, a company that works to keep information like this private, to do a scrub of the Web, with nothing but my (very common) name and e-mail address to go on. Three Silicon Valley engineers, several decades of experience, and access to publicly available databases like Spokeo, Facebook, and LinkedIn (no, they didn’t do any hacking)—and voilĂ . Within 30 minutes, the company had my Social Security number; in two hours, they knew where I lived, my body type, my hometown, and my health status. (Note: this isn’t part of ReputationDefender’s service; they did the search—and accompanying graphic— exclusively for NEWSWEEK, to show how much about a person is out there for the taking.)

It’s scary stuff, but scarier when you realize it’s the kind of information that credit-card companies and data aggregators are already selling, for pennies, to advertisers every day. Or that it’s the kind of data, as The Wall Street Journal revealed last week, that’s being blasted to third parties when you download certain apps on Facebook. (Under close watch by Congress, Facebook has said it’s working to “dramatically limit” its users’ personal exposure.) “Most people are still under the illusion that when they go online, they’re anonymous,” says Nicholas Carr, the author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. But in reality, “every move they make is being collected into a database.”

This, say tech experts, is the credit score of the future—a kind of aggregated ranking for every aspect of your life. It’s an assessment that goes beyond the limits of targeted advertising—you know, those pesky shoe banners that follow a visit to Zappos, made possible by tracking devices we know as “cookies”—by making use of the data in ways that are more personal and, potentially, damaging. Think HMOs, loan applications, romantic partners. Let’s say you’ve been hitting up a burger joint twice a week, and you happen to joke, in a post on Twitter, how all the meat must be wreaking havoc on your cholesterol. Suddenly your health-insurance premiums go up. Now imagine your job is listed on; your vacation preferences linked to Orbitz. Think how this could affect your social standing, or your ability to negotiate a raise or apply for a loan. Finally, what if you could know, based on Web history and location tracking, that a prospective mate had a communicable disease. Wouldn’t you pay to find out? “Most of us just don’t realize the potential consequences of this,” says Lorrie Cranor, a Web-privacy expert at Carnegie Mellon University.

Think it sounds shady? It’s perfectly legal—and happening already. In 2009, a Quebec woman who was receiving sick leave for depression had her disability benefits revoked after her insurance company discovered photos on Facebook—her profile was public—where she looked like she was having fun. At the time, a spokesperson for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association told reporters that such information is fair game. Credit-card companies use social media to determine what kind of offers might work the best on your social group—or to get insight on whether you’d default on a loan. Ultimately, it’s safe to assume that every Web site you visit—yep, that means NEWSWEEK, too—reserves the right to install tracking technology on your computer, eating up information about your tastes, guilty pleasures, and everything in between. Each company can then decide where that trove of data ultimately ends up—and, for data gold mines like Facebook, there’s very little incentive to keep it to themselves. “It’s not only Global 2000 and Fortune 2000 companies who want this information,” says Michael Fertik, the founder and CEO of ReputationDefender. “Eventually, it’s going to be every person in your life.” The ultimate paradox? It doesn’t matter if the information is wrong—or, in my case, comically incomplete.

Alcoholics Anonymous as a spiritual experience

Only the first of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous mentions alcohol. The other 11 talk about redemption, restoring moral character, and devotion to God (or other higher power).

From that perspective, it makes sense that a new study finds that Alcoholics Anonymous increases spirituality. But it goes further than that: Spirituality may actually play a role in successful recovery from alcoholism, says research in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The way that Alcoholics Anonymous members share their experiences of suffering is akin to what happens in a military unit or a musical group or a family, where the idea of "we’re all in this together" becomes particularly strong, said Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.

"Someone will say something profound that everyone can connect with beyond themselves, and it can be very moving," said Humphreys, who was not involved in the study but also researches the effects of Alcoholics Anonymous. "That is a spiritual process."

Alcoholics Anonymous has more than 1.2 million members in the United States, encompassing more than 55,000 groups across the country. Founded in 1935, participation in this group has shown to be effective in short-term and long-term outcomes in numerous scientific studies. Since a large body of research has found that this and similar groups work (Narcotics Anonymous for drug use, and other organizations), more studies are turning to a deeper question: Why do they work?

Meetings of 12-step support groups vary according to how "religious" they seem, Humphreys said. Some of them are full of discussion about God; others don't emphasize it as much, but focus more philosophically on the nature of being and existence.

"Certainly the basic frame is about minimizing selfishness, minimizing grandiosity, giving to others, accepting character flaws, and apologizing when you’re wrong," Humphreys said.

Addiction to any substance, be it alcohol or marijuana or harder drugs, raises common issues prompting spiritual questions, Humphreys said. These experiences include loss of control, terror, doing things you’re ashamed of, and being close to death, he said.

The new study looked at data from 1,726 adults randomly assigned to different psychosocial treatments for alcoholism. Researchers asked the participants questions at the beginning of the study and then every three months.

They found that participants in Alcoholics Anonymous said they increased their spiritual beliefs and practices, especially people who were low on those measures when they first began Alcoholics Anonymous. Moreover, spiritual beliefs and behaviors appear to at least partially be responsible for successful recovery from alcoholic behaviors. Perhaps that also relates to findings from a separate study that religion breeds happiness because of personal connections made in a congregregation.

Still, spirituality and religiosity don't probably operate alone in Alcoholics Anonymous - the coping skills, support, and other encouragement of abstinence from alcohol likely also help participants in recovery, the authors wrote.

Also, the study does have limitations. For instance, most participants were Caucasian men participating in a larger study called Project MATCH. Also, what is meant by "spirituality" varies and means different things to different people.

This wasn't the only news in favor of Alcoholics Anonymous today. A study published in the same journal found that women returning from prison decreased their drinking habits after weekly meetings of the group for six months.

Of course, Alcoholics Anonymous isn't for everyone, and there are plenty of secular programs out there, such as Rational Recovery, that don't overtly make religiosity part of the process.

Here are some guiding questions to help you decide if you need help with a substance problem: Do you need to consume more and more to get the same effect? Do you find yourself repeatedly consuming more than you intended to? Do you find yourself thinking about your next use? Does your habit end up taking more and more of your time? Are you waking up in the morning thinking about it?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Observations 13 DEC 2010

Well, it's certainly the 13th as far as the weather, and my health go. 0 degrees F outside, blowing wind, and ice under snow. Scruffy is going outside for about 30 seconds max. #2 is freezing in seconds after it hits the ground.

Every locale has its bragging rights about how wimpy the locals are about cold and snow. My guideline is that if it is cold enough to kill you, and the dog does not want to go out, it is too cold/snowy. Yesterday and today meet those no-go conditions.

Good thing I have lots of toilet paper. And my antenna farm held up well.

This weekend, there was a band opening on 10 meters (28 MHZ). From being without contacts, now the contesters took over, and breaking into a pileup (one station being worked by many) was near-impossible. And if you were not in a contest, they ignored you. I did get an SSB contact on 6 meters (50.110 USB). The other station immediately got my call, acknowledged, and left, leaving me breathless. The 10 meter madness must have driven someone else frustrated with 10 to seek 6, and discovering I was just a plain US 2x3 call in the Midwest left them with no interest in a QSO.

Many hams are like that. If you are not the DX they want, they'll dump you. It's high school. You learn to deal with it. 10 meters was worse. All they want is new record. Contesters are simply loonies, like furries in fandom.

2 meters was more fruitful, locally. Some old timers helped me out with antenna questions. That is what ham radio is supposed to be.

Obama is triangulating. He's no choice. It's going to be a bad two years for divided government. And, perhaps, to 2016 as well. The economy, for most in the world, is no better. All I can do is pray to be lucky. I really can't change more in the outside world. It's just like ACA- you have to heal yourself first. The world is a giant, dysfunctional, alcoholic family. The US, state, and local governments are starting to get into a more severe stage of dysfunction. They have yet not gotten to Step One yet.

Stuck inside today by my guts. Scruffy is wisely napping. It's the radio, internet, and UVerse today.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Observations 30 NOV 2010

Winter really started today, with the wind.

It was a fairly good day, at work, and at home. The E-Machines laptop is turning into a godsend of a portable, experimental platform. The Win 7 64 bit OS seems to be stable, and performing well.

Finally got my RT Systems cloning software to work with the T-90A, V-8000, and IC-208 H. The trick is to NOT select cloning mode on the radios, prior to cloning; the software does this automatically. Quite a refreshing change from the poor Icom proprietary software. The RT Systems software allows sort features, a basic function not provided for by ICOM. The world also ends at COM 4 for the ICON software- but RT has no problems with USB interfacing. The USB interface from RT is superior.

It will take weeks to get all the radios straightened out, after a several year lapse. Some repeaters are gone, some have changed tones, and all the public service freqs need to be checked. My master spreadsheet is groaning.

Scruffy happy. He's taken to wedging himself between the laptop, and the sofa arm. No way is he going to be second banana to a laptop.

I seem more calm, and relaxed, as I get more things accomplished. A sense of perspective, that only a certain number of things can be done in a day is slowly moderating my absolutist expectations/tendencies of getting everything, or nothing done.

I still need to go grocery shopping. The radios sucked up the time slot for shopping. Damn. Scruffy got his fresh dog food, though from Petco. Guess which one of us starves first. :)

Time to clock in for work (bedtime). I napped a bit, earlier, but that's not so good, according to the doctors. Another behavior modification coming up. The loss of chocolate at work is bad enough. Less soda is being consumed as well. SNARL!